At a pivotal point in the hospitality industry’s recovery, Matt Barba encourages hoteliers to remember their calling. Read his latest op-ed with HOTELS below.

Anyone who has worked in hospitality in any capacity knows what it’s like to work a long, demanding and difficult shift – one full of exhilaration as well as unforeseen predicaments. Only this shift has lasted two years and feels like it’s never going to end.

Contributed by Matt Barba, chief operating officer, Charlestowne Hotels, Charleston, South Carolina

In many ways we have been on the front lines of this pandemic. Scrapping almost every long- standing procedure and becoming experts in the real time translation of what a CDC briefing means for us. We are now fluent in personal protective equipment, transmission rates, sanitation protocols, indoor air exchange rates, antigen tests, and vaccine efficacy. We’ve survived closures, reduced capacities, supply chain disruptions and near crippling staffing shortages.

The public looks to their doctors to set the tone for what to do medically but looks to us to set the tone of living life in this new normal. As people, we are drawn to explore the world around us, to create everyday memories with families and friends, and to commemorate milestone events. We’re committed to being there for our guests for all of life’s moments. Our hotels and restaurants are the backdrop for weddings, birthday parties, business meetings, the setting for millions of meals every year, and are the temporary home for those going from point A to point B. Even if today’s environment requires us to continuously modify and evolve our service culture, it’s in our DNA as hoteliers to consistently provide our guests with thoughtful, personalized and memorable experiences.

If 2020 and 2021 were unprecedented, 2022 is about expecting the unexpected. While life will return to some sort of normal, nothing will be as it once was, and maybe it’s not supposed to be. This collective experience has provided us with corrective opportunities.

We dug deep and discovered how to be more resourceful, creative and resilient.

Our teams have become more nimble and adaptable, ready to address problems before they arise with new and innovative solutions.

Employee well-being is not just a passage in an HR handbook but an everyday practice. Our industry’s employment protocols are changing, permanently.

Rectifying the labor crisis means both creative and purposeful hiring while re-recruiting our existing, valuable workforce. We are re-imagining scheduling, work-life balance and embracing gig work where possible.

Waiting for things to “normalize” around us would be irresponsible, so we acted and grew in real time. Through this evolution, we discovered there is still much more to do.

We must reconcile the discord and generational disconnect between veteran managers and younger employees. The dialogue and mindset must extend beyond the promise of change and be honest, lasting, and meaningful to help our industry sustain and grow.

Price increases will fluctuate, but we must maintain value as a consideration. We cannot simply cut costs like daily housekeeping and expect guests to gracefully pay more. The rubber must meet the road at the tough-to-navigate intersection of monetary value and services provided while adjusting for the inflationary cost of goods and rising employment costs.

We learned valuable lessons during this pandemic, many we hope not to face again, but ones that helped us grow and evolve as an industry. And so, at this pivotal point in our collective recovery, we must remember our calling. The hard parts will pass, eventually. Kinks in the supply chain will be worked out, open positions will be filled, and sickness protocols will become second nature. In the not-so-distant future we will once again think about something other than a virus. Going the extra mile won’t feel like trudging through mud. And personal interactions with guests won’t be from a six-foot distance.

Better days are ahead, and the hospitality industry has proven time and time again that it’s ready to embrace the challenges and opportunities ahead. A little shell-shocked from being on the front lines, but resolved, determined and ready to refashion and elevate the industry.